Pennoyer School breaks ground to construct building addition

Holding shovels and wearing hard hats, Pennoyer School District 79 officials broke ground March 13 on a building addition, made possible when the district passed a $9.7 million referendum on the seventh try, in April 2023.

Board of Education members, village officials, students, and families showed up to mark the occasion.

Plans call for the building addition to be placed between the gym and classrooms on the north side of the existing school building. It will include two locker rooms, an elevator, an art/music studio, 10 bathrooms, and two spaces for group instruction, according to Superintendent Kristin Kopta.

“A school is more than brick and mortar,” said Principal Adam Greenberg at the ceremony. “The true essence of what a school is all about is creating an environment where students, staff, families and our larger community can learn and grow together.”

School Board President Shelia Wachholder, said, “So many people played such a role in making this happen, and they continue to believe and support this project even after several failed attempts. Our Pennoyer pride is definitely strong.”

Pennoyer is located at 5200 Cumberland, Norridge.

Kopta said the building additionwould be the first of three phases of the school’s renovation. In the existing space, the former locker rooms will be converted into a new Spanish classroom.

Also in the existing space, the bathrooms will be completely renovated to become ADA accessible, lead pipes for drinking water will be replaced, the school’s fire detection system will be updated and the HVAC system will be replaced in the gym and multipurpose room, which doubles as the school’s cafeteria. The school’s recreation area, including the playground and basketball court, will have new blacktop.

Kopta said the second phase of construction is expected to begin during the summer of 2024 and the third phase is slated to start in the summer of 2027.

At the Jan. 17 regular meeting of the district’s Board of Education, the board approved a $7.8 million payment to Troop Contracting Inc. for construction and approved a $17,691 payment to Manusos General Contracting for the summer HVAC project.

In 2022, after six referendums for improvements to the school failed, board members said they had to make tough decisions on cutting teacher positions, after-school activities, and hikes in enrollment and technology fees for students.

According to Kopta, after the successful April 2023 referendum, the district was able to rehire the six teachers who had been laid off. She said the changes in after-school activities and fees offloaded to students were reversed. The board reinstated the art teacher, music teacher, physical education teacher, English as a Second Language teacher, primary grades teacher and kindergarten teacher at a March 2023 board meeting. Full-day kindergarten was also reinstated.

Pennoyer is the sole school in for District 79. About 450 students in portions of Norridge, Harwood Heights and Norwood Park Township attend the pre-K through 8th grade school.